Primus (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Friday, August 18, Les Claypool brought his band home to the Bay with a near sell out of the esteemed Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley.
The grand finale to a 39-night run that took Primus from Red Rocks across the country, over the pond and back, and finally back home to the Bay.
While there is a degree of variation across Primus sets, Sunday night’s show at Berkeley was a smart mix of the regular favorites, fan and tour, with the classic appeal of a grand finale. There weren’t any surprises from Primus, at least.
Claypool did deliver some grisly color with a surprise sit-in near the end of opening act Clutch‘s 16-song set. Clutch joined Primus on their tour in July and invited Claypool, donning a pig mask, to join on their original song “Earth Rocker.”
Clutch’s song was punctuated by lead guitarist Tim Sult’s unwavering assault throughout the evening. Every song could have been a ‘boss level’ song in any Guitar Hero game – there was no fluff, only loud, raw, and unfiltered rock and roll. The Maryland-based veterans of the scene that Primus themselves shaped in the early ’90s were an immediate change of pace from the low-key and less aggro acts that typically grace the Greek. In their own right, Clutch fans made up a strong portion of the crowd. Primus fans weren’t about to write them off, either.
For the first three songs, a dedicated fan in the center of the floor held up a sign facing the band. Although I couldn’t see it from the back, by the time lead singer Neil Fallon addressed her before the fourth, promising to play “Spacegrass” before the end of their set. Their song selection touched on every major point in the band’s career, including the future with a new song from an upcoming album called Vision Quest.
Clutch wrapped their hour-long set around quarter to nine, and within 30 minutes of cutting the music, the lights dropped and the unmistakeable alarm of Primus guitarist Larry “Ler” LaLonde’s wah pedal sounded.
Claypool’s thundering basss entered slowly, breathing life into a massive “Southbound Pachyderm,” from 1995’s Tales From The Punchbowl. Following the 10+ minute introduction, drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander captured thousands of hearts when he started the intro to 1998’s “Too Many Puppies,” but nobody expected them to segue so effortlessly into “Sgt. Baker” from 1991’s Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, and then back into the ending section of “Puppies.”
“Here we are,” Claypool said, addressing the crowd between songs. “There you are. This place is a gem. We should treasure this gem. We’ve played entities similar to this, but nothing comes close to this right here, the Greek Theatre.”
“Moron TV” led into one of the groups most ubiquitous mainstream hits, “Wynonna’s Big Brown Beaver” and then into a new song that debuted at the end of last month called “The Seven.”
“Candyman,” the only cut of the night from Primus’ 2016 Grammy-winning take on the song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was punctuated between “Mr. Krinkle” and “Frizzle Fry.” For all three songs, Claypool switched from his bass guitar to a sleek and slim double bass, showing off his mastery of the instrument and its derivatives all along the way.
Following “Nature Boy” from the classic Pork Soda album, the band returned to Tales From The Punchbowl for “On The Tweek Again” and “Mrs. Blaileen” and back into Pork Soda for “Welcome To This World” and their radio hit, “My Name Is Mud.”
Primus followed “Mud” and the dip into the early ’90s with their next largest commercial success, “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver.” By this point in the show, the circle pit that had started early on in the evening had grown. It took up a floor section nearly the size of the stage, swallowing many people inside it — a truly magnificent sight for a venue like the Greek.
In the same fashion that they began the show, with a singular massive track and an equally sizable sandwich of songs, so they ended the show in the same way. The music for their song “The Toys Go Winding Down” was played behind the lyrics for “Pudding Time,” two consecutive tracks in the middle of their 1990 debut album, Frizzle Fry. To end the set, Primus played “Pudding Time” proper.
For their encore, Primus served up another standalone 10+ minute track of “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers” in which Claypool put on his best John Entwistle, thundering away at his bass guitar for one of the hardest and most punishing renditions of the song that I have seen to date.
From start to finish, it was a tour closer that delivered relentless and unwavering rock and roll.